We’ve often seen it in science fiction: an exoskeleton worn over the body that turns an average human into a super human, sort of like Iron Man. An exoskeleton not only protects the body, but also lets a person carry heavier loads and get assists in things like walking, running, and other muscular movements. DARPA is already building exoskeletons for soldiers in the field, and NASA is testing exoskeletons that help astronauts exercise in space. Now, a student at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, has extended that idea to firefighting and has designed an exoskeleton concept that will assist firefighters.
When battling flames, firefighters are usually weighed down with a lot of necessary gear, nearly 50 pounds of it. In emergencies, that weight might be as much as 125 pounds. If that isn’t enough, firefighters also have to run up a lot of stairs and carry people in rescue missions. This puts a lot of stress on their bodies and slows them down. Unfortunately, this means that fewer people get rescued.
A firefighting exoskeleton, however, fits over a fireman’s gear, and assists that firefighter with carrying up to 200 pounds. It supports muscle movement, so running up 20 flights of stairs becomes easier, speeding up the rescue process and assisting firefighters in saving more lives. If a firefighter needs to lose the exoskeleton quickly, a button press releases its joints and it falls apart.
Although no prototype exists yet of this exoskeleton, it’s based on similar technology used by the U.S. Army. The exoskeleton itself weighs 50 pounds, but it’s designed to considerably lighten a firefighter’s load. The only question remaining is “When can we put this into action?”